So, as a game master one of my jobs is to facilitate situations that will entertain my players. Some of those players derive the bulk of their entertainment from twisting rules as written and exploiting conflicts or oversights. Others just enjoy the mechanical process of manipulating rules elements and options. Either way, it’s not how I approach an RPG, and so I struggle a bit when trying to piece together a game such players will enjoy.
As a result I’ve tried to incorporate some game-mechanical complexity into my home brew rules. I use many of the conditions from 4e D&D, allowing players to apply them in particularly heroic moments. I have a point-buy character generation system cribbed from my friend Randy’s Lords of Chaos home brewed rules (those in turn grew out of various games including Champions, Stormbringer, and RuneQuest, to name but a few.) I don’t use classes. The first choice a player makes is whether to use weapons or spells, which sets the primary emphasis for the character, but does not prevent them from taking up the skill not chosen at later levels. All of this was done to entertain those who love to tinker.
In my heart though I’d really love a game without all that. Where each player came in with a character background, and perhaps one or two things their character was pretty good at. I’d set the scene, and the players would go about exploring and messing with monsters, and generally doing all the stuff that players do to wreak havoc on their imaginary world.
Robin Laws, a renowned game designer and writer is in the process of developing a game that touches on some more of the things I like. He calls the game DramaSystem, and the first release of it will be in the form of an Iron Age clan saga called Hillfolk. The whole idea sounds pretty cool.
One of the distinctions that Laws makes is the difference between procedural and dramatic events. Procedural events are the meat and drink of traditional RPGs. We’re busy with the procedures of looting tombs, slaying monsters, and saving villages. Dramatic events are the emotional interactions between people:
Dramatic scenes tend to break down as follows: one character is the petitioner, who seeks emotional gratification of some kind from a second character, the granter. The petitioner may want (among other possibilities) respect, forgiveness, love, submission, or simply to hurt the other person. The interaction can often be measured by a shift in power between the participants. Through an emotional negotiation, presented through dialogue, the granter either supplies the desired gratification, or denies it.
— Robin D. Laws, from A Column on Roleplaying
At this stage of development it’s hard to judge the relative merits of DramaSystem, but the concept that Laws is pursuing has a lot of promise. I imagine structuring encounters in my campaign specifically with the dramatic event model in mind. That is, my players are petitioning NPCs or one another for some form of emotional gratification, and the granter needs to be persuaded in some way to provide it. Developing relationships between PCs and NPCs that feature hooks for dramatic encounters may take some time, but I’ll definitely make it a priority. Expanding the game in this way allows me an opportunity to explore other possibilities in the game world. Having procedural in addition to dramatic components will make for a richer game, and I hope my players find it rewarding as well.
What do you think of the distinction between procedural and dramatic gaming? Does your current game contain enough depth to entertain you, or do you wish it had more? Does something like DramaSystem appeal to you, or are you content with procedural adventures?